Irrational Encounters With The Modern World


Airport Insecurity Measures

I recently owned a beautiful keyring. Elegantly designed, it was a slim metal cylinder with one rounded end. The other end butted neatly to a small metal cube which had a circular hole through it, above which the keyring attached. The cylinder could be unscrewed – a piece of precision engineering, with a nice weight and action to it – to reveal the spiral shaft of a corkscrew, the cylinder then sliding into the hole in the cube to become the crosspiece. It was sleek, but underused. In the two years I had it attached to my keys, alongside a bottle opener that has accompanied me for a decade, it served its hidden purpose only a handful of times.

In honesty, I had forgotten there was a corkscrew on my keyring, because I used it as a keyring more than as a means of removing the stops from wine bottles. I was only reminded of the fact in the same instance that I ceased to own it, in the moments when Bristol’s airport security identified and confiscated it.

airport blog - keyring picAbove: A keyring/corkscrew similar to the one I no longer possess.

In truth, it was a civil and almost pleasant interaction, as a female agent (surname Ilyas, if any journalists want to verify this account) checked whether she could return it to me. With only hand luggage, I would have to surrender the item. I could, she said, collect it on my return. I needed to point out that this was me returning, flying home to Glasgow after a weekend away. They could retain and post it to me, she advised, and in a decision I now regret I declined. They wanted to charge me shipping and a handling fee of six pounds, and I hastily reasoned that it would cost almost as much to just buy a replacement.

It is a shame that Glasgow’s security staff were not as vigilant. If they had clocked the offending object, I would have left it in their possession until my return. At a push, the person who dropped me off at the airport could have come back and taken it away for safekeeping. Glasgow Airport, however, home of a famously-thwarted terrorist attack almost exactly eight years ago, also allowed me to board my flight without once checking my passport.

Airport blog - kicked headlineAbove: One of the widely-shared headlines from the 2007 attack.

Permit me to repeat that. At Glasgow Airport, on Friday 3rd July 2015, I was able to effortlessly board my flight without having my identification checked and while – it transpires – carrying a restricted item.

How did I manage it? By checking in online, with no hold luggage to deposit at the desk. I took my hand luggage straight to security and merely scanned my boarding pass to gain access. At the departure gate, an airline representative again scanned my boarding pass, but without asking for or looking at my passport. On the plane, I was able to just walk in and take my seat.

I am certain that interested parties with the relevant clearance will be able to confirm this by studying the CCTV footage which must surely exist.

It says very little about the “security” measures implemented in airports, suggesting they are for show – and rely on sheer luck – as much as they depend upon intelligence and scrutiny. That keyring has flown on my person three times from Glasgow, once from Berlin, and once from Bristol. It was noticed ahead of the sixth flight it was bound for.

My carrying it on all occasions was purely an oversight, with no criminal intent. The realisation, combined with this complete failure to verify my identity – on the parts of both airport and airline – does not exactly instil confidence.

I can accept that a partly-concealed corkscrew will go unnoticed for a while. With the advancement of technology and the increases in legislation and prohibition, it is important that airports do not forget the basic age-old check of looking at passports. It should not be possible to board a plane using only a home-printed piece of paper.

Airport blog - corkscrew prohibited govAbove: It is actually the first thing on the list. Pity it failed to occur to me to check.

Banking On The Wrong Name – Part 1.

Bank of Scotland Esquire esquire, missing middle initialAbove: Correspondence received, click to see it in more detail.

Dear Bank of Scotland,

Or, to address you in the same manner you addressed your latest letter to me,

Dear Bank o Scotland outdated suffix outdated suffix,

I would like you to reconsider how you word my name, and amend your records accordingly. I use both of my middle initials, not the one you assign, with valid reason. I do not require the “Esquire” you add after my name, and adding two of them seems doubly unnecessary. One recognised authority on etiquette suggests you have also used it wrongly, by placing it at the start of a written communication.

My name is Jordan R.A. Mills and, dear god, the abuse I have taken for electing to sign myself that way. Since late primary or early secondary school it has been viewed as an affectation, lending itself to the wonderfully tedious game whereby people guess what those two letters stand for. You can imagine, I am sure, that there were never any flattering or complimentary suggestions. It took me a regrettably long time to realise that the best and most effective way to shut that down was to simply tell the truth; that it is not immediately apparent that I sign my middle initials as they stand for the forenames of my two grandfathers – neither of whom lived to see me born. Now who is the “rotten arsehole”?

There are three ways people write this moniker for me – some take my lead and copy it verbatim, some disregard both initials, and – most annoyingly – some abandon only one of them. When I was occasionally performing stand-up comedy, and with reference to the second two options above, I made this observation:

“I’ve never understood why people find it acceptable to just jettison a key component of my name.

I’d never dream of doing that to someone, just going ‘You know what? I was going to write his name, but Jesus I can’t be bothered so I’ll leave a couple of letters out.’ Whatever time that might save. Yet it happens often.

Thankfully the birth registrar and the passport office, whatever their flaws, aren’t that desperately lazy. So it appears to be my legally documented name. If I’ve made the effort, and taken the twenty-odd years of abuse for signing them, there’s probably a good reason for their inclusion.

It also annoys me on automated bank forms and the like, where it says ‘middle initial’ and only lets you enter one character.
‘I’ve got two middle initials.’
Well, in that case, please decide which of the two dead grandfathers you never met should have their existence acknowledged in our records – one, or neither.

If neither had existed I wouldn’t be here. If there was only one I’d just be half the man I am today.”

This will explain, I hope, why your letter addressed to “Mr J R Mills” has irked me to the extent that I am contacting you.

Furthermore, for reasons that lie somewhere in the early or mid 1980s when my maternal grandmother opened this Halifax Savings Account for me, you have always added an “Esq” after my name. I have never been entirely sure why, and when I opened my current account a couple of years ago I was informed that it would now be difficult to remove from your systems.

I accepted this, it being no great shakes despite you being the only company in my experience to ever append it. Attention to detail is important, though, and I find it excessive that you used it twice in succession. Perhaps you were trying to butter me up by calling me “Mr J R Mills Esq Esq”, or maybe it was a piss-take by your admin staff – taking umbrage at the first Esq and sarcastically adding a second? Either way, I am happy for you to drop both of them in future. I have no requirement to be titled in such a way.

Incidentally, while researching (a loose term I use to cover a look on the internet powered by a world-famous search engine) the correct application of Esq, I found a BBC article on the subject. To quote directly from it:

“Esquire is more formal than Mr, and only used in written correspondence,” says Charles Kidd, editor of Debrett’s Peerage and Baronetage. “It’s more old fashioned, and you would only use it on an envelope.”

The article continues with an example which, adapted to this situation, clarifies: the envelope would be addressed to “Jordan R.A. Mills, Esq” but the invitation card itself would read “Mr Jordan R.A. Mills”.

At least, that is my interpretation of it. Some other sites question the abbreviating of full names to mere letters when the Esq suffix is added. They agree, however, that Mr and Esq should not be used in conjunction.

The upshot of all of this is, I have finally decided to try and have your records altered. The change-of-name page on your website came up as “unavailable” when I tried to access it this afternoon. I found another way to do it once logged into my online banking, and read through the instructions. Unfortunately, among the list of acceptable forms of identification, you do not list a passport. My passport is the only recognisable proof that I have to hand. Hence this letter.

Please remove the Esq suffix from my name, it has been there forever and there really is no need for it. I am content to be a plain old “Mr.”

As for the rest of my name, please add my second initial (preferable) or remove the existing one. As stated, I do not feel it is in your jurisdiction to acknowledge or deny the existence of half of my male antecedents.

Your cooperation in this matter is appreciated.

Yours sincerely,

Jordan R.A. Mills

Bank of Scotland Tweets

Only Toothless Parrots Succeed.

I seem to only ever succeed at failure. It is a bittersweet irony.

The latest, and most spectacular in some time, involves a trip to Germany over Christmas. So far it appears to have cost me several hundred pounds, a close friendship, and a job that I have longed for over four years to resume. It looked like it might cost me another job too, had the holiday request that I submitted not finally been accepted a mere six days before departure.

On the back of this, and it is a longer and more intricate story than that single paragraph suggests, I have I recently become the benchmark of failure. I know this because a friend said to me “Whenever things go wrong for me, I will think ‘At least I’m not Jordan.'”

By that reckoning, my main problem is that I am Jordan…




Passports and the Royal Mail

I need to renew my passport this year. In a deliberately symbolic gesture, I planned to sign the form at the stroke of midnight on Hogmanay, as 2011 became 2012. The pen slipped, I went outside the tiny box provided for my signature, and invalidated the whole form. I kind of hope that wasn’t symbolic.

The second form arrived, and I finally got round to sending it away this week, having located a person to take the necessary photographs – I don’t trust those booth machines, I don’t trust myself to use those machines correctly, and you only get one shot at it for your money. I like having someone check I haven’t blinked at the crucial moment before I pay for them. Also, I firmly believe in giving my business to people and not to machines where possible, to keep folk in jobs. You’ll almost never see me use a supermarket self-service checkout for this reason. Also, because I’m a pretty genial fellow most of the time, and often like to engage in a little friendly and good-humoured chat with whoever has had to spend their whole day passing things over an incessantly-beeping scanner. God knows, when I did that job it was little witty exchanges that brightened up the day. Like the time I was supervising on a busy and under-staffed Sunday in a branch of now-defunct catalogue shop chain, and a short middle-aged man approached the Customer Service Desk to which I was tied. “Just a wee query,” he said, immediately adding “not me!”

That’s what I love about Glasgow – life’s always been hard, so most folk have a smile and a wee joke at the ready. Even the harassed shop worker or bank teller, disillusioned with their lot and silently enraged by the relentless stream of idiotic customers, will generally offer a tired smile or witty retort if you show them a little appreciation. In my local supermarket, they insist on asking if you want a hand with your packing. I always decline, but sometimes invite them to help carry it if they like. At Christmas, I got served by the woman whose hair reminds me of Karen Dunbar’s shopkeeper in “Chewin’ The Fat.” She asked, as usual, if I wanted a hand with my packing. “No thanks,” I said, “but you can help pay for it if you want.”
“Aye, I didn’t offer that,” she said.
“God loves a tryer,” I offered. As I spoke it, I didn’t have to decide then if it is spelled “tryer” or “trier.”
“I can barely afford to pay for my own,” she said. I think she probably meant it. These are tough times for us all. I just figure the world could use a wee bit more social interaction, and the sharing of smiles with strangers, rather than see us heading for the self-service till before going home to chat alone to people online, resorting to typing “lol” instead of actually enjoying laughter together.

Anyway, I took my passport form and photos to the nearest Post Office. I got called forward before I’d put two of them into the envelope and sealed it. “We’ve got a check-and-send service,” the girl behind the glass said hopefully, trying to “up-sell.” I told her it was okay, I’d read the instructions and trusted myself. She looked at me dubiously. I didn’t bother to tell her just how many times I read and re-read the instructions in the past two months. Even when I am absolutely convinced that I’ve done it correctly, I still have that quiet nagging doubt that I think affects us all. But, every time I read it it said the same thing, so I have hope. Well, had.

“Do you want to send it special delivery?” she asked. I told her I didn’t, I trusted the Royal Mail to get it there – since that is their job, by law. She looked sceptical to the extent that I asked how much more expensive it would be, compared to just sending it first class. There was about five pounds in it, and although this doesn’t sound like much, it is when you are skint and have just forked out eighty quid for the passport and seven for new photos that are so awful you’re only prepared to show them long enough, and to those necessary, to get out of the country. I declined.

Her attitude knocked me off my stride though, and now I’m worried – given my recent experience with the missing phone – that my old passport will go missing in the post too. I hope not, but I wish instead that I could confidently say “of course it won’t.” It just seems indicative of further failings in the service industry, that you used to post things first or second class and be able to predict – with reasonable accuracy – when they would arrive. Now you’re lucky if they arrive at all. The rational part of me wants to say she was just trying to bump an extra fiver from me, and that the level of service should be as expected and is governed by law even without it being tracked. Hell, my phone was tracked and it went missing. I can tell it’s going to prey on my mind until the new one arrives though, or doesn’t, as the case may be.

So thanks, bad-mood Post Office clerk, I had some good chat right before with the guy over the road who took my picture, even though he came across as surly for most of it, and you successfully killed my buzz. I’d refer to you as Little Miss Dismal, except that would suggest there was an element of cuteness to you, which was sorely lacking.